AMMAN (Reuters) - At least ten people were killed in a car blast on Thursday in the Syrian coastal Mediterranean province of Latakia where two Russian bases are located, state television said.
State media said scores of cars were on fire and shops were also damaged by the blast in a bustling commercial district of the town of Jableh that lies in the heartland of President Bashar al Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
Senior medical officer Ghassan Findi told state television the death toll was expected to rise with rescue operations still continuing and scores of injured still being rushed to nearby hospitals.
Jableh’s hospital director said many among around thirty people injured were in critical condition.
“It was a strong explosion, from the nature of the wounds we received,” Qusai al Khalil told state owned Ikhbariyah.
State television showed footage of mangled cars and shutters of shops damaged and blown apart as rescue workers cleared the debris amid a heavy security presence in the bustling commercial area near a popular vegetable market and a garage depot.
The head of the local police force told state media initial investigations suggested a car parked in the area that was remotely detonated may have been responsible for the blast.
At least 150 people were killed and 200 wounded in May when bombs hit the town and the port city of Tartous on the Mediterranean coast where Russian military bases are located.
Latakia province hosts Moscow’s naval base in Tartous port while Hmeymim air base is Russia’s main launching ground for an intensive bombing campaign against rebel-held territory.
Islamic State claimed the May attacks in a statement posted online saying its fighters had targeted “gatherings of Alawites” deploying suicide bombers to inflict the heaviest losses. Hardline Sunni militants consider Alawites heretics.
Latakia city, which is north of Jableh and capital of the province, has been targeted on a number of occasions by bombings and insurgent rocket attacks.
But these government-held coastal cities have been largely spared the widescale violence seen elsewhere in the war-torn country.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Ralph Boulton